On rethinking how audio is captured, represented and retrieved in this new world of AI
Ishwarya Ananthabotla completed her BS and MS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT. She is pursuing a PhD in the MIT Media Lab’s Responsive Environments group, exploring ways to capitalize on our knowledge of human perception, cognition, memory, and attention, to re-think traditional paradigms for audio capture, representation, and retrieval.
Madhav: “When is the heartbreak hill going to come?”
Police: “You are standing on top of it”
Running the 26.2 miles for the Boston Marathon was not easy but I had to do it. I felt it an obligation and my duty to do something about the number of friends and family affected by Cancer, Thanks to many of you, I have been able to raise close to $7000 dollars for Cancer research. The run would have been impossible if not for the great music companion, iPod, loaded with Bhajans, Ghazals, Illayaraja, Warren Buffett. Interestingly, in my practice runs, listening to Buffett was quite interesting, however, on the day of the run, I didn’t want to listen to how I can make $700,000 in 30 years by continuing to drive a 20 year Volkswagen Beetle! Isn’t that intriguing?
The run is next morning, we just drove down to Lalita’s in Brighton, for a sleepover that night. You know it’s all going to be great when you are surrounded by such fabulous friends. Lalita, Anu, Minal, Brahma, Vandana, Kiran, Raaga and Mahi threw a surprise by giving me a wonderful best wishes and good luck dinner and a del.icio.us cake!. Next morning, Sandeep got me off on to an excellent start by picking me up early in the morning at 630 and dropping me off at the Boston Commons where I took the runners bus to Hopkinton.
April 20, 2009, the day of the marathon was beautiful crisp day with clear skies and temperature in the low-mid 60s. Chatting up with the runner sitting next to me on the bus, I learnt something very fundamental to anything we want to achieve. This gentleman, a physician by profession, mentioned that he and his wife have been marathon runnners for a long time and that they run it under 3.5 hours. I was startled as he looked nothing like it. Lesson #1 don’t judge by looks! Then I asked him, how do you run that fast, he said, we run with our friends who are 2.5 hour types! Lesson #2, being with the right people is crucial.
The run started in Hopkinton, Massachusetts at 10:30 AM, I started the run with Illayaraja’s Janani Janani and continued to listen to many of his great compositions for the first half of the marathon. At mile 13, just as the energy starts to go low and the mind to starts to switch from ‘this is not that hard’ to ‘yes i can’ attitude, a power booster bhajan by Srikanth was definitely a blessing Jaya Jagadeesha Hare . The energy at the end of that bhajan helped me carry through to mile 14, it was roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes of running so far and some more to go! I then switched gears to Warrent Buffett, thinking that his inspiring Buffetology would bring some perspective to my run, I was definitely out of my mind. How can money-talk bring the mental energy needed to complete another much more grueling 12 mile run! I realized then that money can’t by me (love) what I needed the most, a cheerful yell, an extended hand of a young child with a slice of orange in the palm, a gentle hug from a good friend. I switched gears from Buffett to Bhajans by Boston Young Adults, first of which was Subbu’s gentle instrumental Antharyami Thuhi and Avo Pyare , Pranavaswaroopa , Prem Ishwar Hai and many more followed by Ghulam Ali and Pankaj Udhas, Humko Kiske Gham Ne Mara, Chitti Aayi Hey, Kal Chowdvi Ka Chand.. the song, their magnificent voices, the wah wahs in between kept me going until mile 16.
A set of three or four small hills are ahead before the heartbreak hill at mile 21! Future looked bleak for a moment, as I kept running, pulling myself together to keep up the 12 minute miles, I got my first Surprise in Wellesley. Brian Durand, my colleague and his wife cheered up for me, yelling my name and handed me a bag of Jelly Beans. Those were undoubtedly the most precious beans I have ever had! As I approached mile 17, a second surprise, good family friends, Prashanth, Nagashree, Anjali and Avani were lined up on my right taking pictures and cheering up. A quick break and couple of hugs and hi-fives later I was back on my toes with much more energy than 10 minutes ago and felt ready to take on the heartbreak hill. I had exhausted all the energy gel packets that I carried with me, badly needed them for the last stretch.
Mile 17, Ganesh Shastri screams out “Madhav, Subbu is waiting next to the water table with power gels”, could this race be any more fun I thought, here I was just running around on the streets and so many good friends and family cheering, helping and running along with me in my thoughts. Gave a hug to Subbu, pinned the gel packets to my bib, waved good bye to Ganesh and Subbu and continued my jog. I was on the flyover going above the Mass Pike (I-90), people had told me that it is great to be at that point because that marks completion of 2/3rds of the race, they also warned me that is the lower end of the hearbreak hill soon to come!
Here is the marathon course
After listening to ‘Humko Kiske Gham Ne Mara’ a couple of times, it sure felt upbeat and good, but the reality was the body was not up for much more running. As it turns out, my previous marathon was a physical run up to this point, it was a mental run from here on. Loaded up on the power gel, quenched my thirst with Gatorade, grabbed an orange slice from a little kid (which later on caused a great deal of suffering for our first one Raaga because I accepted food from a stranger! darn kids ;), chewed on a twizzler, finished the last jelly bean and kept going.
After crossing what felt like a large number of small hills, I couldn’t resit but ask the security personnel standing on the side, “When is the heartbreak hill going to come?”, “You are standing on top of it, it is downhill from here, good job, keep it going”. It was definitely a “high” point in the run. Shortly there after, the run was much smoother, a lot more cheering sounds coming from a distance, didn’t realize Boston college students were so cool. They literally yelled and screamed, wrote interesting tag lines on their T-shirts and were doing everything possible to keep the runners on their feet. A bunch of hi-fives with the Boston college kids and the sheer energy they created made the next couple of miles an easy run.
Running into mile 23, I was eager to meetup with the all the beacon street buddies and Kiran, Raaga and Mahi. It was indeed a fabulous moment being with family, friends and well wishers, Lalita Pulavarti, Minal, Pavan, Shruti, Prahlad, Nandini, Herb, Neethi, Amog, Annika. Thanks to Pavan for taking this beautiful picture!
Less than 4 miles to go, as I approached mile 23, another pleasant surprise as Lalitha Gunturi, Pallavi and Jayashri cheered me up. I turned up the volume on the iPod, listened to beautiful bhajans by the LA Young Adults, Akash and Vinay . As I slowed down to take that one last energy gel, college kids from BU and other passers-by were kind enough to run with me and a few others for a short stretch to keep up the momentum. It was the last half mile, taking right turn onto Hereford, I gathered all my energy to make the last lap a memorable one. I picked up speed as I took left turn on to Boylston, the finish line was now visible at a distance, running at 6 minute miles I breezed past the finish line. As I returned my ChampionChip and collected the marathon medal, I thanked God and many others who were part of this wonderful experience.
Walking a couple of blocks was harder than running those 26.2 miles, as the wind chill was getting worse and there was no place to stretch, I just sat down in a nearby restaurant and waited for Lalita, Kiran, Raaga, Mahi, Minal, Herb to come along. Since we planned to meet at a different location and I was unable to walk much further, for once I thought cell phones are not a distraction in life after all! I didn’t have one, borrowed one from a Chinese lady and made calls to coordinate. Thanks to Yashoda, she called Lalita and made sure they knew where I was, that was a great help indeed. The ride on the Green line back to Beacon was looong, but fun as I got a free traing ride and special treatment for wearing the Marathon medal. For the first time I knew, how a pregnant lady might feel, having people hold doors and give away their train seats 🙂
Back at Anu and Minal’s place in Brookline, I felt that I didn’t miss much by missing the massage at the finish line. The hot water spa treatment at Anu and Minal’s was just such a great start of my recovery process. Followed by Pavan’s freshly cooked idly’s and Anu’s hot coffee pretty much was enough to justify the long run ;). Anu filled me in on the activities at work and how much the company cheered for me. Kiran drove us home that night, gently and safely. I was glad I didn’t have to drive.
Back in the office the next morning, I didn’t realize the scale of cheer for my run, starting with my manager Ara who updated the entire company with each milestone I hit, by sending out email alerts and words of encouragement. I had balloons, finish line ribbon, Bengay (yeah, you read that correct) and greeting cards in my office. There were a lot of emails from colleagues and tremendous amount of support from our CEO Stan, CTO Yoryos and everyone. Furthermore, the company made significant contributions to the fund raising as well and I am ever thankful to them for being so benevolent!
As I reminisced the 5 hour 31 minute run on the drive back home, a thought occurred to me, that everyone should run a marathon once in their life time, there is nothing like it, when is yours?
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” ― Patanjali
Meditation has become a regular part of my daily life. I had meditated quite a bit when I was in middle school, fell of the track for a long time and then it was on and off for many years. In summer of 2018, a stressful day shook me up and harshly reminded me of how much I have been gifted in abundance and how I’ve been sleepwalking without ever thinking about these gifts.
Over the past few months, I have been trying to sit down in meditation for 5 minutes right after waking up and about 20 minutes in the evening before bed and it’s been helpful in calming the mind. It has been helping me clear out fears and anxieties and clarify my thinking. What is my meditation like, it’s just silent sitting, observing my thoughts, my body, my surroundings, listening and being fully present. It’s hard and I have not been able to do all of these things consistently for longer than a few seconds at a time but I know it’s a muscle that needs to be built over time.
I have tried a few meditation apps including Calm and Headspace and the one app I have come to use regularly is tarabrach.com. In particular I use the smile meditation which runs for about 25 minutes. It relaxes my mind and body. When I’m really distracted, and desperately trying to come back to the present moment, I use the Be Here mediation which is roughly 20 minutes. Thanks to Tara Brach for her dedication, great gift of meditation to the world and for inspiring me to meditate.
“Distractions arise from habitual thought patterns when practice is intermittent.”
I’ve heard my friends say that meditation is hard, that they can’t sit quietly for so long and they get bored or distracted easily. It is true. Meditation can be hard and like many good things in life, meditation will get easier as we start practicing in small sessions, my recommendation is to do it immediately following an activity that we already do and in the beginning keep it tiny, like 1 minute. So tiny that you can’t say “I get bored, it’s long etc”. From there as you spend a few days or weeks doing 1 minute meditation, increase to 2 or 3 minutes. Meditation is a mind game and tricking the mind into believing that we are not “wasting” time sitting quietly requires increasing time spent very gradually and not trying to do it 20 or 40 minutes on day 1.
“Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.”
Meditation can be a life long practice that can only get better and more beneficial as we grow older. As I make progress over the next few months, I’d like to wean away from guided meditation to going solo. Guided meditation is an amazing tool to keep us engaged and focused on the present moment, it’s like giving the monkey a task to repeat e.g. going up and down the totem pole. It’s necessary but it should not become a meditator’s crutch.